Sunday, October 11, 2009

An ill wind blowing globally

Cyndy Cole in the Arizona Republic: In the world of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses, the planet is growing ever more interconnected, and possibly ill, say some researchers meeting in Flagstaff.

Take six species of New England bats, newly affected by a fungus that spreads during winter hibernation. It causes wings to deteriorate and the bats to die en masse, creating the worst mortality rate the world's bats have ever seen, said David Blehert, of U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center. It's expected to sweep from New York to possibly Tennessee and the Midwest within a few years. That fungus might have been imported here from Europe, which has different bats that have built up more immunity and don't die from it as easily.

These are some of the types of questions probed by researchers like Jeff Foster and Paul Keim at the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University. Researchers gathering in Flagstaff last week described new and changing threats to coral reefs, local birds and even prairie dogs as a result of multiple factors.… It's likely the overlaps between climate change, global commerce, inbreeding in small populations, introduced species, poor land management and domestic animals mingling with wildlife that all add up, Foster said.

These factors together have lead to what's thought to be an upswing in infectious disease affecting animals and ecosystems worldwide, being tracked at NAU's labs, and elsewhere. So this may be a strong period for infectious diseases. "They're certainly getting more opportunities now," Foster said Scientists are also getting better at detecting them….

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